Annual Gynecological Exam
An annual exam allows a healthcare provider to assess reproductive organs and screen for certain health problems. It also provides an opportunity for a woman to discuss any sexual health or reproductive concerns as well as general women's health care.
The exam consists of a brief general exam of the thyroid, heart, lungs and abdomen. A breast exam is performed to assess the breasts for unusual lumps, thickness or pain as well as providing an opportunity for instruction on self-breast exam. The pelvic portion of the exam consists of a visual inspection of the external genitalia as well as a speculum exam. The speculum exam allows the provider to inspect the vagina and the cervix for any abnormalities. A Pap smear is also obtained during this portion of the exam. The final step in the annual gynecological exam is the bimanual exam. During the bimanual exam the uterus and ovaries are assessed for size, shape and position.
The Pap smear consists of collecting a small sample of cells from the cervix using a flat spatula as well as a brush. The sample is then sent to a laboratory where it is screened by specially trained staff to detect pre-cancerous or cancerous changes. It is recommended that you avoid sexual activity as well as douching or vaginal medications for 48 hours prior to your exam.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that Pap smear testing begin within three years of sexual intercourse, or by age 21. Even women who have not become sexually active need to visit a gynecologist by age 21. Exams are recommended yearly thereafter.